I recently had the chance to sit down with a friend for more than five minutes, which is unfortunately rare these days. As we sipped coffee outside a Starbucks, our conversation slowly weaved it’s way from the atmosphere, quality people-watching, life-catching up, to some deep aches that weighed heavy.
We are lonely. Here’s the thing. We know lots of people. Lots of people seem to like us and we like a lot of people. And yet, somehow, in all of that mutual liking, there seemed to be little genuine connection.
Just a few days before this conversation, I’d spoken with another friend who was feeling similarly. She had been in a church for a few years and made every effort to be highly involved, get to know the other church members. So many knew her and liked her, but yet, she didn’t feel connected to anyone. And here’s the thing, all three of us are single.
It could be just a coincidence and have no real bearing on the subject. On one hand, I think it must. Surely there are married people feeling just as disconnected as we have been feeling.
As my coffee friend and I continued baring our lonely hearts, a question began rising in my mind. In the Church, are we really hearing each other?
This question came about as my friend and I shared about how often in our lives we had asked for help. We had asked people to walk with us through something, to allow us to learn from their lives, to do life along with us. Sometimes, it was a sin issue that had a grip we couldn’t loose on our own and our requests for help were met with platitudes and prayers but no purposeful movement into the mess of our lives. At times, it was that we saw something in someone who was a bit further down the road and we wanted to learn from them, to be like them because they were like Christ. And instead of an invitation to walk beside them and learn about them, we were handed a book or Bible study. Other moments, we just needed company. Needed to be seen. And we were met with impersonal invitations to be where everyone was welcome.
This situations left more scars than they offered healing. But, it isn’t even that we were mad about how things had turned out, we just were…are at a loss of how to keep asking when we feel unheard.
So, I have been wondering. Are we hearing each other? I used to think that the problem was that people are afraid to ask for help. And I still think, that at one point, that was the problem. And as the Church, we began to encourage people how to reach out and ask for help. But did we ever equip people to respond to that hurt? Besides giving them language to form an immediate response, did we really equip and challenge them to step into someone else’s world? And what keeps us from stepping in? What is holding us back from walking through pain or sin struggles with our brothers and sisters? Why are we so quick to squish “mentoring” and “discipleship” into a structured Bible Study? What keeps us from acknowledging and helping to fight the lies of loneliness in someone’s life?
My guess is fear. And rest assured I am standing with you on both side of the fear. I am crying out for help and failing at hearing those who are crying out for help from me. Here is what I know…Helping someone beat a stronghold is messy and it most likely will hurt anyone who steps in. Allowing someone to get close enough to learn about how we deal with our own pain and hurt in life, how we rejoice and how we respond when we screw up, means they are going to see our failures and maybe we fail more than we succeed. That is terrifying. Loving someone out of loneliness might mean we have to give up our own time, might mean we have to include people even when we aren’t sure what to talk about or if they will even click with the people we are bringing along. It might mean awkward conversations or even worse, awkward silence because we just don’t know what to say.
But what are we missing out on because we are so afraid? It isn’t just the struggler, the disciple, the lonely one who is missing out. When we let fear stop us from getting our hands messy in relationship, we miss out too.
Consider all the times Jesus reached into the mess. He stopped a funeral and reached into the death to bring a young man back to life. He touched lepers. He dug up the dirt around the feet of blind beggars to set them on the road to healing. He gathered a scraggly bunch of guys and invited them to follow him and learn, even to watch his greatest moments of heartache. One of those guys betrayed him to his death. One was always sticking his foot in his mouth. One was always trying to one up everybody and be the favorite. How many times did Jesus weep with people or go out of his way just for one person…one conversation? Jesus came to reconcile us to God. And according to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We have become ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors are meant to make decisions as though they have the mind of the one whom they represent. What would cause them to do otherwise? Fear.
But we have no need for fear. Our God is bigger than that. So let’s learn to hear one another. Let’s brave the mess, brave the baring of our own messy lives, brave the awkward moments. I’m confident that if we do, we will all discover life like we have never known.